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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Blue Crabs

Marine Fisheries

vintage crabber photo

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Fish
Shellfish
Crustaceans

Blue Crabs

The blue crab is common to all North Carolina coastal waters, but the largest populations tend to live in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. In 2011, over 30 million pounds of blue crabs were harvested commercially, with a dockside value of $21 million.

In order to grow, a blue crab must shed its shell and form a new one. As crabs shed, they emerge from their old shells with a very thin, soft shell which hardens after several days. These softshell crabs are delicacies that are eagerly awaited by crab lovers each season. The shedding process is repeated up to 25 times during a crab’s life span, which seldom exceeds two to three years. When environmental conditions are favorable, large numbers of crabs can be produced from a relatively small spawning stock. Females can spawn twice in their life-cycle and release up to two million eggs at a time.

If a crab loses a leg or claw, it is able to regenerate, or grow a new limb to replace the one lost. In addition, the crab possesses the power to throw off limbs voluntarily. If a crab is seized and held by a leg, it may release that leg and escape. The leg is regenerated during the next shedding cycle.

A mature male crab is called a "jimmy" and is easily recognized by the brilliant blue shading on his shell and claws. Female crabs are called "sooks" (adult) or "she-crabs" (immature) and can be distinguished by the rounded aprons on their underside and red tips on their claws. The "sponge crab" is a female that has an egg mass on her abdomen.

To manage the blue crab resource, there are regulations to govern both recreational and commercial crabbers. For more information on these rules, contact the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) at 800-682-2632 or 252-726-7021.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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Jimmy crab illustration

"Jimmy" — mature male blue crab

she-crab

She-crab — immature female blue crab

Sook crab

Sook — mature female crab

sponge crab

Sponge crab — female with eggs

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